Sword of Damocles Over the STAR: Threats Towards Press Freedom

Sword of Damocles Over the STAR: Threats Towards Press Freedom

Why would the Malaysian government threaten to suspend a newspaper that is known to be compliant and supportive of its policies? What were the circumstances that led to the Sword of Damocles’ hanging over the STAR?

Apparently, the STAR published an article that was critical of the Syariah Court judgment that led to canning of three women. Some Muslim groups took offence at the article and lodged police reports against the STAR.

The STAR promptly apologized. But apology was not good enough and the Home Ministry now serves a show cause letter to the STAR LINK

Malaysia Threatens Action Over Paper’s Canning Comments

Malaysia’s home ministry said Thursday it had threatened to penalise one of the country’s top-selling dailies over an article which was critical of the recent caning of three Muslim women.”We have issued a show-cause letter to the Star newspaper as what was said in the article can threaten public order,” home ministry deputy secretary general Fuad Abdul Aziz told AFP.

“They have 14 days to explain to us why we shouldn’t suspend them as there have been at least three police reports filed by groups and people and the article can be viewed as an insult to Islam and Islamic law,” he added.

Fuad said the article titled “Persuasion, not compulsion”, by the English-language daily’s managing editor P. Gunasegaram, questioning whether the sentence of caning was appropriate, had upset Muslims.

“The Star’s editor came to see us earlier this week and they published an apology in their paper on February 24 but we are seeking a fuller explanation and action to resolve this.”

He said that following the paper’s formal response, the ministry would have to decide whether to issue it with a warning, suspend it or revoke its publishing licence but said it was likely to be given a warning.

“The Star is an influential and established English-language paper so we want to make sure it continues reporting in a responsible manner,” he added.

Editors at the Star could not be reached for comment…

The Home ministry action comes after four Muslim NGOs lodged identical reports against the STAR LINK

Muslim groups see red over newspaper article
Four police reports have been lodged today over a newspaper article for allegedly containing seditious material which insulted the Malays and Islam.
The four identical reports were lodged at the Sentul district police headquarters against an article titled ‘Persuasion, not compulsion’ by The Star managing editor P Gunasegaram.
The police reports state that Gunasegaram’s commentary on the recent syariah whipping sentence meted against three women was an insult to Muslims.
“The article clearly wants to challenge (and) anger the Muslims and insult Islam. (The author) has no right to comment about Islamic jurisprudence because he is not a Muslim,” read the police report.
The police report also called for Gunasegaram to issue an open apology to all Muslims.

The four complainants were representatives of National Indigenous Organisation (Perkasa), Perkasa Selangor, Malaysian Islamic Consumer Association (PPIM) and Malaysian Muslim People’s Coalition (IRIMM)…

The whole incident seems so déjà vu – Muslims are offended once more for who knows what reason. Non-Muslim neighbors must always tread around eggshells, but they have no right and no reason to be offended. At least, this seems to be the case when the Police reluctantly revealed they will not be taking action against two journalists from Al-Islam magazine who covertly went to a Catholic church, pretended to take the communion host and posted photos of the spat out host in their publication. LINK

No Action Against Al-Islam, say AG’s Chambers
Due to overwhelming pressure from the general public, the Dang Wangi police district headquarters revealed yesterday that charges against two Al-Islam magazine’s journalists, who entered a Catholic church in Kuala Lumpur, have been dropped.

The duo who – on the pretext of checking out a claim that Muslims were being converted to Christianity – entered a Catholic church in Ipoh and took part in the holy communion.

They were charged under Section 298A (1) of the Penal Code for causing disharmony, disunity or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill will, or prejudicing the maintenance of harmony or unity, on grounds of religion.

In a letter to the complainant, senior investigating officer ASP Ananthan Rajoo stated that the Attorney-General’s Chambers had decided not to press charges against them.

“We referred this case to the deputy public prosecutor (DPP) and we received orders from them to take no further action (NFA),” stated the letter, dated Feb 12.

Readers may also read my earlier article on the incident “Sacrilegious Acts by Unbelieving Spies in Church” LINK

These incidents raise some serious questions.

Why are Malaysian Muslims and only Malaysian Muslims so sensitive and always offended but others are not? Should the STAR have apologized? What is one to make of the action from the Home Ministry?

I give below the full text of the ‘offensive’ article from the STAR which has since been removed from the STAR online website. The reader can decide whether it is really offensive.

It would have been better for the Islamic authorities to present rational rebuttals if the article was guilty of making any unjustified and rationally indefensible comments that misrepresent Islam. Unfortunately, the Islamic authorities, in collaboration with the Home Ministry, choose instead to rely on police force and intimidation.

So much for an ‘offense’ article that has the title, “Persuasion, Not Compulsion.” LINK

Persuasion, not compulsion
P. Gunasegaram
The STAR Friday 19 Feb 2010
When federal laws unambiguously prohibit whipping or caning of women, religious laws must not be allowed to do the opposite.

ONE of the small things that I am grateful for is that I cannot be legally whipped or caned for any offence any more. Yes, there are criminal penalties which can specify whipping, but not for those over 50, I am told. Sometimes being old(er) is an advantage.

The other reason that I won’t be legally whipped is that I am not a Muslim and therefore my personal behaviour is not subject to syariah courts, which can hold me liable for offences such as drinking alcohol and have me caned.

For me and for millions of Malaysians of all races and religions, Feb 9, 2010, was a sad, black day in the history of our country. On that day, three women were caned legally for the first time ever in this country. They, all Muslims, were caned for engaging in illicit sex, an offence under syariah law, it was announced.

It is shocking that such sentences are being meted out for such offences. While religious laws may allow for such sentences, it is possible for judges to mete out lower sentences, especially when such “offences” are of a very personal nature and harm no one else.

When there are loopholes in religious laws which allow such punishment out of all proportion to the “crime” committed, and which go against the sensibilities of most Malaysians, then it is incumbent upon the Government of the day to use the legislature to do the needful. Otherwise it abdicates its responsibility.

Illicit sex means sex out of wedlock and if we are all not hypocrites, we will admit that it happens all the time, among both Muslims and non-Muslims. To prescribe caning for such an offence is something that most Malaysians are likely to consider just too much.

It also opens the door for caning for more minor offences in the eyes of religious officials, such as drinking alcohol. In fact one Muslim woman, who has refused to appeal her case, is currently awaiting a caning sentence to be carried out after she was found guilty of drinking alcohol.

That case attracted international attention and made it to the front page of two international financial dailies – The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times – on the same day last year. The current case, announced on Wednesday, is already beginning to attract world attention.

With three women already having been caned for illicit sex, the way has been paved for more caning of women in the future. That will not endear Malaysia to Malaysians, let alone foreigners who are inevitably going to equate us with the Taliban. And who can blame them?

And are we going to go further down the slippery road and cane women for dressing immodestly too, as has been done in some countries?

There are already indications that Malays, especially women, are migrating and leaving their homeland, not because they don’t have opportunities here but because as Muslims, their personal freedom is restricted – and there is danger that it will be curtailed even more.

Yes, it has been said the three women did not suffer any cuts or bruises following the caning but that is scant consolation to those who have to undergo such humiliating punishment on top of the intrusion into their personal affairs.

As if the caning was not bad enough, alarmingly they spent months in prison. One of them is still serving her jail sentence and will be released only in June.

All three were found guilty of committing illicit sex by the Federal Territory Syariah High Court, which issued the caning order between December last year and last month. Perplexingly, they were not made public at that point of time. The public had no idea of the caning before it was done.

Also, it was not clear if the women had exercised their full rights under syariah law by appealing the court’s decision.

These are behaviours which should not be treated as if they were criminal offences; but they have been. The offenders have not only been caned but also jailed, which is rather harsh punishment for something which did not harm anyone else and was done in privacy and behind closed doors.

This is clear indication that there are laws in our statute books – both syariah as well as civil – which are outdated and need to be revised in keeping with the times and the recognition that individuals have personal rights.

Personal behaviour between consenting adults that do no physical harm to them and to others should not be legislated. This is in keeping with the development of personal rights throughout the world, and anything that takes away these rights is a step backwards.

Religion is open to interpretation, man interprets it and man can – and does – make mistakes.

Even if religious rules are flouted, we should have a system which does not mete out punishment for offences, and focus instead on rehabilitation and counselling. That will be in keeping with the universal tenet that there is no compulsion when it comes to religion.

Custodial and punitive sentences by religious courts should be limited via statutes because personal behaviour of adults is often involved and there is no hurt or harm to any others arising from such behaviour.

Religion is about persuasion not compulsion, about faith not certainty, and that is the way we should keep it. Otherwise, bigotry is going to get in the way and we won’t be following the tenets of religion but of those who choose to interpret it the way they want to.

We have all seen what happens when religion – no matter what religion – is carried to extremes and hijacked by bigots. We don’t want public flogging, we don’t want arms chopped off, we don’t want people to be stoned to death, and we don’t want people to be burned at the stake.

We have already moved way past that. Let’s not allow a small number of religious bigots to take us back into the dark ages. And for that, we all need to stand up and speak up when our individual rights are trampled upon.

Managing editor P. Gunasegaram is appalled by the number of sins committed in the name of God.

P. GunasegaramWhen federal laws unambiguously prohibit whipping or caning of women, religious laws must not be allowed to do the opposite.

ONE of the small things that I am grateful for is that I cannot be legally whipped or caned for any offence any more. Yes, there are criminal penalties which can specify whipping, but not for those over 50, I am told. Sometimes being old(er) is an advantage.The other reason that I won’t be legally whipped is that I am not a Muslim and therefore my personal behaviour is not subject to syariah courts, which can hold me liable for offences such as drinking alcohol and have me caned.

For me and for millions of Malaysians of all races and religions, Feb 9, 2010, was a sad, black day in the history of our country. On that day, three women were caned legally for the first time ever in this country. They, all Muslims, were caned for engaging in illicit sex, an offence under syariah law, it was announced.It is shocking that such sentences are being meted out for such offences. While religious laws may allow for such sentences, it is possible for judges to mete out lower sentences, especially when such “offences” are of a very personal nature and harm no one else.

When there are loopholes in religious laws which allow such punishment out of all proportion to the “crime” committed, and which go against the sensibilities of most Malaysians, then it is incumbent upon the Government of the day to use the legislature to do the needful. Otherwise it abdicates its responsibility.

Illicit sex means sex out of wedlock and if we are all not hypocrites, we will admit that it happens all the time, among both Muslims and non-Muslims. To prescribe caning for such an offence is something that most Malaysians are likely to consider just too much.

It also opens the door for caning for more minor offences in the eyes of religious officials, such as drinking alcohol. In fact one Muslim woman, who has refused to appeal her case, is currently awaiting a caning sentence to be carried out after she was found guilty of drinking alcohol.

That case attracted international attention and made it to the front page of two international financial dailies – The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times – on the same day last year. The current case, announced on Wednesday, is already beginning to attract world attention.

With three women already having been caned for illicit sex, the way has been paved for more caning of women in the future. That will not endear Malaysia to Malaysians, let alone foreigners who are inevitably going to equate us with the Taliban. And who can blame them?

And are we going to go further down the slippery road and cane women for dressing immodestly too, as has been done in some countries?

There are already indications that Malays, especially women, are migrating and leaving their homeland, not because they don’t have opportunities here but because as Muslims, their personal freedom is restricted – and there is danger that it will be curtailed even more.

Yes, it has been said the three women did not suffer any cuts or bruises following the caning but that is scant consolation to those who have to undergo such humiliating punishment on top of the intrusion into their personal affairs.

As if the caning was not bad enough, alarmingly they spent months in prison. One of them is still serving her jail sentence and will be released only in June.

All three were found guilty of committing illicit sex by the Federal Territory Syariah High Court, which issued the caning order between December last year and last month. Perplexingly, they were not made public at that point of time. The public had no idea of the caning before it was done.

Also, it was not clear if the women had exercised their full rights under syariah law by appealing the court’s decision.

These are behaviours which should not be treated as if they were criminal offences; but they have been. The offenders have not only been caned but also jailed, which is rather harsh punishment for something which did not harm anyone else and was done in privacy and behind closed doors.

This is clear indication that there are laws in our statute books – both syariah as well as civil – which are outdated and need to be revised in keeping with the times and the recognition that individuals have personal rights.

Personal behaviour between consenting adults that do no physical harm to them and to others should not be legislated. This is in keeping with the development of personal rights throughout the world, and anything that takes away these rights is a step backwards.

Religion is open to interpretation, man interprets it and man can – and does – make mistakes.

Even if religious rules are flouted, we should have a system which does not mete out punishment for offences, and focus instead on rehabilitation and counselling. That will be in keeping with the universal tenet that there is no compulsion when it comes to religion.

Custodial and punitive sentences by religious courts should be limited via statutes because personal behaviour of adults is often involved and there is no hurt or harm to any others arising from such behaviour.

Religion is about persuasion not compulsion, about faith not certainty, and that is the way we should keep it. Otherwise, bigotry is going to get in the way and we won’t be following the tenets of religion but of those who choose to interpret it the way they want to.

We have all seen what happens when religion – no matter what religion – is carried to extremes and hijacked by bigots. We don’t want public flogging, we don’t want arms chopped off, we don’t want people to be stoned to death, and we don’t want people to be burned at the stake.

We have already moved way past that. Let’s not allow a small number of religious bigots to take us back into the dark ages. And for that, we all need to stand up and speak up when our individual rights are trampled upon.

Managing editor P. Gunasegaram is appalled by the number of sins committed in the name of God.

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